Gavel Grab

Appeals Court Tosses Spending Limits for Nonprofits

A federal appeals court has thrown out regulations that restricted the way nonprofit groups may raise and spend money to influence federal elections.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington issued the ruling today in a victory for Emily’s List, which backs female Democratic candidates who support abortion right. It challenged rules enacted by the Federal Election Commission in 2005.

According to an Associated Press report, these FEC rules “said nonprofits would have to pay for political activities involving federal candidates using limited ‘hard money’ contributions. Individuals are only allowed to donate up to $5,000 annually to a nonprofit that indicates it plans to use the money to support or oppose a federal candidate.”

Circuit Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote that the FEC rules violated free-speech rights of Emily’s List, the Washington Post reported. The opinion said:

“The First Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, protects the right of individual citizens to spend unlimited amounts to express their views about policy issues of and candidates for public office. Similarly, the First Amendment, as the Court has construed it, safeguards the right of citizens to band together and pool their resources as an unincorporated group or non-profit organization in order to express their views about policy issues and candidates for public office. We agree with Emily’s List that the new FEC regulations contravene those principles and violate the First Amendment.”

Legal scholar Richard Hasen wrote in his Election Law Blog that the opinion by Judge Kavanaugh and a second judge “enthusiastically follows the Supreme Court’s deregulatory lead in crafting an opinion that essentially will allow individuals (and, I predict, eventually corporations and unions) to make unlimited contributions to political committees to fund independent expenditure campaigns.”

The Supreme Court currently is considering in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission whether to overturn precedents and reverse a federal ban on corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates.

The FEC had not decided to whether to appeal today’s decision, according to the AP. The Caucus blog of the New York Times asked, “Will the Supreme Court look at the case? Perhaps. In any event, the appeals court ruling is surely not the last word in the long-running, multi-faceted debate over the place of money in politics.”

By clicking here you can read earlier Gavel Grab postings about campaign finance issues.

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